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Released August 11, 2004

HATTIESBURG CLINIC'S AUG. 16 BONE MARROW DRIVE FOR
SOUTHERN MISS ALUM OFFERS HOPE FOR OTHER PATIENTS
By Angela Cutrer

HATTIESBURG - David Freeman lowers himself in a chair and absently runs his right hand through his still-thick, silver-tipped hair. "It's thinning already," he says wearily before looking up with a sheepish smile. "Bet by next week I'll be having to wear a hat. Oh, well; doesn't matter."

He shrugs his shoulders good-naturedly, then grins. Today the chemotherapy's finally getting to him, and though he tries hard not to let it show, it does.

Freeman, 41, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma June 28. He's at "Grade 2" out of the three stages, but he's been able to stay emotionally strong for the last few weeks. Unfortunately, the tough physical treatment for his cancer is only the beginning of a long battle.

"I'm not used to being on this side of the coin," the big man says. He shifts uncomfortably and looks away, his cheeks stealing heat from the air and turning a pale crimson. "I'm overwhelmed by the attention - well, 'blessed' is a better word."

A strong-faithed Christian who works as an athletic trainer at Poplarville High School, Freeman is convinced this illness that crept up on him so quickly is now being used as a tool by God. "I will tell you what I know," he says with firm conviction: "God's in control. There's no anxiety on my side. My wife and I accept whatever God's laid out for us and we are at peace."

Bone marrow drive planned for Aug. 16

On Monday, Aug. 16, Freeman's employer, Hattiesburg Clinic, will hold a bone marrow drive at its facility - not only to help Freeman, a Southern Miss alumnus, but also to help others suffering from life-threatening illnesses.

"We are excited that Hattiesburg Clinic and Southern Miss have teamed up to promote this bone marrow drive," Freeman's boss, Mike Williamson, director of sports medicine at Hattiesburg Clinic, said of the event, which will also kick off the promotion of the Big Dave Athletic Training Scholarship. "David and his family cannot extend their gratitude enough to those who plan on donating and to those who have generously given to the scholarship."

The bone marrow drive will be held from noon-5 p.m. in the second-floor conference rooms at Hattiesburg Clinic, 415 South 28th Ave., Hattiesburg. No appointment is necessary and the process takes about 15 minutes, with donors completing a form and having two vials of blood drawn. The results will be included in the National Marrow Donor Program Registry, so that matches across the country might be created.

"As of right now we have not found a match (for Freeman), so we will continue to pray until a bone marrow match is found," Williamson said. "We also have the comfort of knowing that if a match is not found for David at our drive, there is a possibility that a match will be found for someone else."

His life is an example to all

Freeman is married to Sarah, a retired employee of the Army-Air Force Exchange Service, and they live in Wiggins. "I'm telling you, we are just overwhelmed," Sarah Freeman says of all the attention the couple's friends, co-workers and church members have shown them. "What God is doing is bringing our community together. Dave and I both just want everyone to see what God is doing in our lives and we just hope to help someone, to touch someone."

Carl Merritt, principal at Poplarville High School for the past four years, says the faculty and staff at the school want to do everything they can for Freeman because he's already affected them with the way he lives his life.

"He's touched so many people. That's why this is so difficult," Merritt said of Freeman's diagnosis. "I have met a lot of folks in my life in education and, by far, he's the most genuine person I've met. You don't get lip service from David; you get a genuine compassion from him. He's become one of our family, and when family's sick, it upsets you."

Merritt said that when he first spoke to faculty members gathering to meet for the upcoming school year, he said only two words when it came to what was at the top of their agenda: "David Freeman."

"We are pulling for him," Merritt adds. "Every now and then we meet people who make us think, 'What would we do without him?' He's a great man of faith and dedication and there's nothing we wouldn't do for him."

John Miller, Poplarville High School's athletic director and basketball and tennis coach, said he's been working with Freeman for "going on three years, and I tell ya, if he was a youngster, I would adopt him," he says with a laugh. "He's a fine Christian man who cares about his profession and about kids. I have to tell him to go home. He's up here at the crack of dawn and leaves at midnight.

"David goes the extra mile. I think the world of him," Miller adds. "He's a fine, outstanding man and I just hope that people will be compassionate, because this can happen to any of us. I would hope they would donate; it's for a good cause. I'm scared to death of needles, but I'm willing!"

Poplarville head football coach Pat Morris says the community wants to do anything needed when it comes to Freeman. "David's a very stable man concerned about athletes," he says. "His beliefs transfer to his work on a daily basis. (His illness) came as a shock to us. He's looking at such an uphill battle; you have to have admiration for his attitude."

Freeman, who had already spent a lot of time working with cancer patients, is thankful for the friends in his life now that he needs them the most. "You always wonder about things. I never knew until now the impact. Them wanting to help … well …" He can't finish the sentence. He looks away again.

Southern Miss scholarship created

Freeman received a bachelor's degree in athletic training and a master's degree in sport administration, both from Southern Miss. He's been working as an athletic trainer since 1996 and has been with Hattiesburg Clinic since 2002.

"He's not just an athletic trainer to the kids he works with," said Williamson. "And he's not just a co-worker to us. He's a friend. He's one of the most unselfish people I've ever met, and if this bone marrow drive finds a match for someone else, he'd be the first one to say that he was proud to have been a part of it. If anyone's deserving of help, it's David. He's never said 'Why me?' He's so strong; it's unbelievable this illness hit him, of all people."

Freeman's other co-workers feel the same. "We are delighted to join forces with Southern Miss for two such rewarding causes," said Jennifer Venditti, communications coordinator with Hattiesburg Clinic. "Each time I have spoken with David about the bone marrow drive or the scholarship that has been created in his name, tears come to his eyes. He is overwhelmed by all the support people have shown and amazed at how quickly this has come together.

"Southern Miss has been wonderful to work with. Upon hearing about the drive, they immediately wanted to know how they could become involved. From that point on, we have been working closely to spread the word about the drive and the scholarship."

Trenton Gould, director of athletic training education at Southern Miss, says that those who donate blood to try to get matched can also donate to the scholarship fund, or just do one or the other. The scholarship, which was funded by an anonymous donor, already has a recipient, who will be named later today.

Myeloma affects tens of thousands

Dr. Linda M. Pottern, writing for the National Cancer Institute, says that "multiple myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells that are usually found in the bone marrow. These cells produce antibodies that normally circulate in the blood and help ward off disease."

In the 2003 New England Journal of Medicine, it was noted that "of (the) more than 1 million Americans who develop cancer each year, more than 14,600 people will be diagnosed with multiple myeloma. … A new study shows patients treated with high-dose chemotherapy and bone marrow stem cell transplantation may live longer than those treated with standard therapies. Among 401 patients evaluated, researchers found that rates of complete response, or patients who have undetectable myeloma protein in serum or urine, were higher in the high-dose group relative to the standard-therapy group (44 percent vs. 8 percent)."

Intermittent bone pain initially brings multiple myeloma patients to a doctor and the condition primarily affects older individuals. Red flags include back pain; pain with a band-like distribution around the body; pain not relieved with conventional methods (i.e., rest, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, acetaminophen); associated constitutional symptoms (fever, weight loss, dehydration); and progressive neurologic deficit in the lower extremities.

The International Myeloma Foundation, founded in 1990, dedicates itself to improving the quality of life of myeloma patients while working toward prevention and cure. The foundation is focusing on its own educational efforts during Myeloma Awareness Week Aug. 20-30. The foundation provides materials free of charge for distribution, including easy-to-read patient handbooks and two-sided tip cards covering myeloma symptoms and diagnosis.

The foundation's Web states, "Previously a disease of the elderly, today myeloma is being diagnosed in people in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Only 30 percent of all myeloma patients can expect to survive five years; those who do are primarily the patients with an early diagnosis. Yet despite the rise in incidence among younger patients, many oncologists see few cases and are unfamiliar with myeloma's early signs - such as low back pain - that may mimic other common conditions. In fact, a significant number of people with myeloma do not experience any symptoms at all, and the disease is only identified through routine blood tests. Proper education about recognizing and evaluating these abnormal test results is especially important."

Whatever the future holds, he's ready

Without any treatment, Freeman is looking at 18 to 36 months of life. With just chemotherapy, he might make it to four years. With the transplant, he's looking at much more time.

That's why Hattiesburg Clinic and Southern Miss are working together to give Freeman a chance to stay around a lot longer. "(Hattiesburg Clinic employees) are very exited about the bone marrow drive," said Venditti. "I feel like with our nearly 1,400 employees and the large number of faculty and students at Southern Miss, this will be a very successful event."

"I want to thank everyone for their generosity and prayers," Freeman says. "Right now, I'm just going on with my life, taking care of these kids (at the school). The disease has changed everything; the small things, they aren't as important anymore. And what people have done for me ... how do I describe my thanks?"

Freeman pauses. "(My wife and I) don't dwell on what might happen to me," he says, his voice a little louder. "What happens happens. It's no big deal."

He's quiet for a moment, thinking of what could happen. When he speaks again, it's a little more quietly. "I'll just get to go 'home' before you do," he says with a wink in his voice.

He laughs then, his heart a little lighter at the thought of it.

For more information about the International Myeloma Foundation, visit www.myeloma.org or call 800-452-CURE (800-452-2873).

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August 11, 2004 3:00 PM